Thursday, May 22, 2008


You can never underestimate the value of a good cover.

I've seen horrific covers. Atrocious. Okay, I'll admit it... one of my least favourite covers ever was the hardover for Marcus Sakey's debut, THE BLADE ITSELF. However, it is eye-catching.

On the other hand, I love the cover for his follow-up, AT THE CITY'S EDGE.

(Now, I'm still not on my own computer, and still with limited internet, so I don't have downloaded pictures I can plaster here to show examples, but I'm providing links if you're interested.)

Arguments will always run both ways. Some people like my book cover. Others don't.

It really doesn't bother me. I kept my mental focus on one thing with the cover: the spine. I wanted a spine blurb, because I figured all the real estate I could bank on in the bookstore was the width of a spine. There isn't a lot you can do with the spine of your book, but if the lettering is big so that it's easy to read, and there's good contrast with the colours, that all helps. The spine blurb was the nice final touch.

As it turned out, the team at Dorchester worked hard and got me fantastic placement in Barnes and Noble. However, in Canada, the books were being shelved generally... other than in the airport bookstore, where they were already on a table. When I signed stock a lot were moved to tables, but you can't bank on that.

All that said, I remember discussions about THE CHAMELEON'S SHADOW by Minette Walters. I'm sorry, I think that image is god-awful and ugly. I'm giving it the same credit I gave THE BLADE ITSELF, though: it stands out. It may look different in physical form, but we now also market our books online, and images are going to be almost as important as what the book looks like in physical form.

Next time you're in the mystery section of a book store, look around. Take note of how many dark covers and dark spines there are. There was a trend for a while, toward the white covers, but you'll notice a low percentage of covers that are colourful. And the ones that are stand out from the crowd.

The red flame wrapped around on the spine was one of the other things I wanted - some colour that could help the book stand out a bit.

I know there's a trend to talk about copy-cat covers, but here's the thing: there's no database of photo images that are being used by publishers worldwide with an inventory to check against. People end up having similar plot ideas or storylines without any collusion, all on their own, so why can't different artists come up with similar visual images without realizing it? It happens. Okay, when it happens within the same publishing house, rant on. But when it's happening across oceans, at different companies, well, it's not laziness, is it?

I understand we want original cover art. I get it. But I also get that the publishing business is taking a lot of blows. I know book sales in Canada have been hit hard by the strong Canadian dollar. If we want to push for better art, original art, we have to invest in it financially, and most people aren't willing to pay more for books. So who's to blame for cover problems? Nobody and everybody. We all have to shoulder some of the responsibility if we want to point fingers.

In other words, I don't have a solution to throw at publishing companies for how to ensure we don't end up with any cover similarities. It would involve investing more in the art department, allowing for more man hours to designing the covers, and it would mean creating some sort of database with shared info between all the publishing houses...

It ain't gonna happen.

I know when I'm trying to come up with a book title I google it and I put it in amazon and do a search, but it's hard. I've had titles I liked, and nobody else was using, and six months later something pops up.

Is there any way to avoid that? Not unless you're psychic, as far as I can tell.

One of my favourite covers is for Steve Mosby's THE 50/50 KILLER. I also love the subtle genius of the cover for his new one, CRY FOR HELP.

There are definitely other cover things I think are overdone, or ugly as sin, but it's just my opinion. I'm not slagging Marcus or Minette... just saying those covers don't do it for me. It's not personal. A Leisure (Dorchester) title with a cover I love? THE CONCRETE MAZE by Steven Torres.

And my boyfriend doesn't like it.

Well, he has great taste with most things...

What about you guys? Covers you love? Ones you hate? What's important to you? Does it influence your decision to buy a book? Or are you tired of the cover chats?


stevemosby said...

I've been pretty well-served by covers so far, and it's interesting what you say about the investment side of things. It's true - but it's not just money, of course. 50/50 Killer had very little money behind it (in the grand scheme of things), but I do know the designer liked the book, went away and took a knife to an actual tree to help create that cover image. Which is attention above and beyond what I imagine a lot of more heavily promoted books get. I have no idea if someone suffocated themselves for Cry for Help. I hope not.

The Chameleon's Shadow - I agree about the US cover. The UK one - here - is IMO much nicer.

Some other favourites:

Jeff Noon. I love the series of covers down the right-hand side there, especially Vurt at the bottom. In real life, the colours of the feather against the white background look absolutely stunning. But the others are beautiful too.

Simon Kernick's UK hardback for Relentless (here). That's a fantastic cover. Having said that, I also thought the paperback cover for the same title was pretty poor, not that it hurt the book much.

Saturday's Child by Ray Banks (here). I just love the image - which is striking and unusual - and the way it fits into the text.

There are probably hundreds of others. Margo Lanagan's Black Juice. Graham Joyce's Smoking Poppy. I could go on all day.

pattinase (abbott) said...

It doesn't influence me adversely but sometimes a really good cover may make me pick it up. I guess the title is as important to me as the cover. Or the author's name if I liked previous work. Or the description. Or the blurbs. Or reviews. A lot of stuff, it seems

Dave Zeltserman said...

An exceptionally lurid or gory cover might keep me from buying a book--especially if it would be embarrassing reading the book in public, but other than that covers have no impact on me buying a book.

John McFetridge said...

Sandra, I think you mentioned once before how covers today also have to look good as a thumbnail online, where most people will probably see them first.

I first saw the cover to The Blade Itself as a business card Marcus handed me in Madison and it looked terrific that size.

It's another challenge, that's for sure.

Daniel Hatadi said...

I'm definitely influenced by the quality of a cover. And not just in terms of picking the book up off the shelf. I truly enjoy holding and rubbing and sniffing the book I'm reading. When it's over I like to hold it for a little while longer before I let it go.

The writing inside is ultimately what counts, but since there are so many good books out there that I'll never have the time to read, I'd rather have a good looker as well as something with substance.

Yeah, I'm feeling a little kooky today. :)

Sandra Ruttan said...

Steve, you truly have had great covers for your books, which is a wonderful thing. And I think that having people on the team who love the book does make a huge difference, as it did in your case. Imagine if the artist hadn't read the book...

Another cover I love is the hardcover of Simon's A GOOD DAY TO DIE - the UK hardcover, as that's where I bought it. That was a great cover.

Patti, you've got a whole checklist!

Dave, interesting thought. You know, a guy once told me he was reading a book that was clearly targeting the female audience - soft colours, fashion items on the cover, but it was a mystery - and he got some ribbing from strangers in a waiting room for reading it. Embarrassment could be a real deterrent for a lot of readers.

John, I agree - TBI's book cover looks good small. Just doesn't do it for me big. You've had radically different cover designs for your books, and somehow, I like them all.

Daniel, it's funny you say that, because one of the things that stood out with Steve's 50/50 Killer was the distinct smell. That book also has a whole different feel to it. You know, I just loved everything about that book. :)